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Meredith Lipman has only been teaching full-time since the end of 2019, but it's clear her creativity and energy are already having an impact on her students.
The 25-year-old works at Atlanta Area School for the Deaf in Clarkston, Georgia, where she's the lead preschool teacher, teaching 3- to 5-year-olds who are all deaf or hard-of-hearing, some with additional disabilities as well. It's her first full-time teaching job.
Why did you get into this line of work? And did you always want to do this?
I have always loved children. I have been a babysitter since I was allowed to at age 12. I have been a camp counselor at numerous summer camps — for hearing children, deaf children, and blind children too!
Part of me always knew I would work with children in some capacity. I just was not sure how. I was always toying with the idea of becoming a teacher. Several teachers of mine during my stages of schooling said I would be a great teacher one day.
Sadly, people are often dissuaded from this profession. It’s more a career of passion than of financial gain. But I wake up every morning so excited to see my little ones and be a part of their growth and learning.
What does a typical day look like?
Typically, I arrive at the school at 7:30 a.m, and greet the students from the buses around 8 a.m. We walk into class together to start our day.
Mornings consist of “morning circle time,” “center time” (tables with different activities set up for students to rotate to), and playing outside for recess. They have lunch around 11 a.m., more play time afterwards, then nap time around 1 p.m. Afterwards, they have story time and free play until boarding the buses at 3 p.m.
Throughout the day, my priority for these students is language, language, language! I use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with them, and with some I also use spoken English. At this young age, the children are sponges. Every activity is a moment they can learn language. It is my job to make learning language fun through play.
What do you like most about your job? And least?
I love the creative aspect of this job. I consider myself to be right-brained: creative, spontaneous and artistic. I love creating materials for my kids to use in class, often things that feature them or their interests. I have used their pictures in lesson videos so they “see themselves” in each theme. (I made a morning routine video with their pictures shown on screen. I cut out their faces and put them on popsicle sticks so they can interact with the video when their friend pops up on screen, too). The sky's the limit! I have such freedom in my job to create the environment I want. I can’t say I’d have the same freedom in other professions, which made this line of work so attractive to me.
A challenge in this job is setting boundaries. I can work the full 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and still have so much to do. I can easily work into the late afternoon and evenings doing creative work for my classroom. I have had to learn the hard way to put the computer down and leave work at work. Pro tip: I do not take my work home with me Monday to Thursday. My work stays at work. On weekends, I will take my computer to touch on some things, but making defined work/home boundaries has been a crucial learning curve for me as a new teacher.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
That a teacher’s only job is to teach. I do more than just teach “at” children. I am the one parents come to about parenting, learning and behavior advice. I am the role model for language, behavior and social skills for the children both inside and outside of school.
I’m a teacher, a therapist, a friend; I provide parental-support, advocate for the kids (namely related to special needs and related to deafness/using ASL); I'm a linguistic role-model (most families know little ASL, therefore I am their consultant for how to use language at home with their child), content creator (I create materials and make up content to fit my children and their interests). Teaching has several layers; the instruction part is barely skimming the surface of what I really do.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
I wish I knew not to be afraid of the classroom. I avoided this profession for years because this is the profession where “you’re going to be poor forever.” I was dissuaded time and time again; teachers are not respected in our society as much as they should be. They do much more than people see or give them credit for.
I can say I have found my calling in teaching, despite what society thinks. Do I spend my own money for materials at times? Yes. Do I work longer hours than necessary to get everything done? Also, yes. Am I making a hefty salary? No. But what do I have? A heart that is overflowing for my kids and freedom to have a classroom that children want to learn in. A place that makes learning fun and they are free to be themselves. I work my tail off and have zero regret choosing this profession. I am all heart — I needed a profession that was too. Being a teacher is the best decision I have ever made.
How did you train for this job?
I have been studying to become a teacher since the fall of 2017 and did my internship in the third-grade classroom here during the fall of 2019 to complete my degree in education. I was offered a job right out of the gate! That's a huge perk for students considering this field — wherever you intern, the school knows you already. It’s an easy transition to a job if you have a solid rapport with them.
Teachers have various tracks as far as training. A perk within this field is you do not necessarily need an education degree to teach, but it does help. For example, if you pursue theater as your major in college and decide after you graduate to become a teacher, you can absolutely get a job, though it would most likely be to teach your specific degree of training (i.e.: theater teacher).
You might be asked to get a certification of some sort upon hiring, depending on the school where you apply to teach. For me, I started out wanting to become an interpreter of ASL. After I received my bachelor’s degree (ASL-English Interpreting at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York), I decided I wanted to teach deaf children rather than be an interpreter. I chose to continue my training at the master’s level, but this track is not a requirement to become a teacher. All that is absolutely necessary is a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree provides a higher pay scale upon entering your first job, which was an attractive option for me.
I also chose this route to give myself the knowledge and training about the classroom and teaching children since my interpreting training in undergrad only provided training on the language I would be using, ASL.
Is there a time where you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?
I make materials more accessible for my kids. Child-friendly American Sign Language materials are few and far between, so most of the time I create them myself. I know my families greatly appreciate the resources because not only is their child able to learn but the families can learn the language from my materials, too.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I am passionate about theater and performing. I would probably be an actor or on the creative team in some capacity because theater has always been a huge passion of mine. I love that as a teacher, I can incorporate these skills into my classroom and with the visual/gestural language I use every day and the creativity in my lesson plans.
Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
I would love to be involved in curriculum design for early childhood in deaf education. The deaf children I teach are all taught to be bilingual: signing ASL as well as reading and writing (and sometimes speaking) English. The problem is there is not a widely used curriculum to match deaf and hard-of-hearing kids’ learning. I would love to be a part of a team dedicated to early learning for deaf children and create a teaching model so these kids can become strong, bilingual language-learners in the classroom.